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Bishop: NFL, union 'failed' players hurt in scam

ATLANTA (June 30, 2006) -- Steve Atwater told his four kids their recent trip to Cancun might be the last one for a while. Blaine Bishop has tossed and turned at night, worried his retirement safety net could be in jeopardy.

The two former NFL defensive backs insisted that the league and its players' union are to blame for the $20 million they and five other current and former players lost in an alleged investment scam.

The seven players have sued the league and its union to recover the money, claiming the union endorsed the services of an investment firm even though its manager had liens against him.

"They are a huge billion-dollar company," Atwater, a former Pro Bowl safety for the Denver Broncos, said of the NFL at a news conference. "We hope that they would at least come to the table and talk to us."

Bishop said he is past being mad at the scheme authorities say hedge fund manager Kirk Wright cooked up to steal the players' money. Now, he just wants his money back so he can take better care of his wife and 5-year-old son.

"It's not to the point of filing for bankruptcy, but it's a large sum of money," said Bishop, a former Pro Bowl safety for the Philadelphia Eagles who also played for the Tennessee Titans. "It didn't destroy us, but ... the NFL failed us."

The lawsuit, filed June 23 in federal court in Atlanta, says the league and the NFL Players Association are liable for the losses. The players also say the union failed to certify that Wright was properly insured.

NFL spokesman Joe Browne said the lawsuit will have to take its normal course in the courts.

"We met with representatives of the players last week prior to the filing of the lawsuit. However, the litigation is now in the hands of the attorneys," Browne said. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said June 27 that the league regards the lawsuit as unfounded and without merit.

NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis declined to comment on the players' accusations. He also wouldn't comment on the assertion by the players' lawyers that they asked the union to sit down with them before filing the suit and the union refused.

"I can't comment on it because I'm not aware that they requested a meeting with the NFLPA," Francis said. "They may have, but I'm not aware of it personally, so I can't comment on it."

Wright was arrested in Miami Beach, Fla., in May on federal fraud charges. He also faces a lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission against him and his company.

According to authorities, Wright and his company collected as much as $185 million from at least 500 investors since 1997 and misled some of them to believe the value of those investments was increasing using false statements and documents. As recently as Jan. 25, the firm reported $166.6 million in assets spread across five hedge funds it manages and advises. That money is now missing, according to the SEC.

While Atwater, 39, and Bishop, 35, wouldn't disclose how much money they each lost, they said the scam has affected their lives and perhaps their futures, as they have relied on their NFL earnings for their retirements and vacations.

"I told the kids we better enjoy it," Atwater recalled. "Unless we get the money back, these trips will be far and few between."

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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